Getting bullied is a traumatic experience. It reduces self-esteem, leaves kids feeling depressed and anxious and can have long-term effects.
Why do kids torture each other this way? It’s normal for children to have some aggression. The question is how much they have, what they do with it, what parents are teaching them at home about it, and what’s being modeled for that child in terms of managing aggression. Kids who are bullied at home are far more likely to bully other kids.
But the number of kids who bully others because they truly have sociopathy brewing, or are oppositional defiant kids who get satisfaction from the pain of others, is a relatively small number compared to the amount of bullying that goes on. Here’s how to try and handle bullying.
- Inform your child.
Talk to your child about what bullying is, the signs of bullying and whether or not it’s going on. Make sure he/she knows that if something happens, in school or online, they should tell you, and you will support him/her and together figure out how to work it out. If something is happening online, it’s especially important that they NOT respond before telling you about it. With bullying, it’s critical to not engage, to not feed it by being exactly who the perpetrator is looking for — someone they can get a rise out of. And they should NOT erase the hurtful post before talking to you. It should be saved somewhere, because sometimes you need to collect evidence of what’s been going on.
- Protect your child.
Make it clear that bullying says less about the victim’s personality than it does about the bully: and this kid and others have to learn how to deflect and contain this problem, and not feed what’s going on. Explain to your child that the worst way to respond is a sort of mob mentality: other children who are afraid of being targets will join with the bully and abandon the victim. Teach your child to resist the herd effect, not to pile on when someone else is being bullied. If they have the strength to support their friends, they will find the nerve to support them.
- Practice appropriate responses.
If you’ve had conversations with your child before bullying starts, they’ll be more likely to come to you if he/she becomes a target. That gives you a chance to have a dialogue and role-play with them at home. “So-and-so said this”; “okay, what are a couple of lines you can say if it happens again?”
When a child is insulted or humiliated they are likely to be stunned, and you want to help make sure they don’t react in a way that adds fuel to the fire. It helps to come up, in advance, with four lines they can say that he/she feels comfortable with, to deflect what is going on. You can also think together about people or friends they can confide in, and get support from.
- Find allies.
Encourage your child to make a deal with his/her friends: If you stick up for me, I’ll stick up for you. Data shows that the most effective way to combat bullying is for bystanders to step in and say, “Hey, that’s my friend, don’t do that.”
- Talk to your school.
The most effective way to arm children against bullying is for schools to start educating kids about it, and many are. They start in first grade with bullying education: What is bullying? How do we support our peers? What is treating somebody with respect? What is empathy? You have them try empathy on for size, and sticking up for each other. The lesson is that if everybody wants to avoid being a target, they can only do that by hanging together. As a parent, think about talking to your school, whether your kid is being bullied or not, because bullying education, if it’s made developmentally appropriate, is the best weapon. If your child is being stalked or threatened with violence you should contact the police as well as the school. In extreme cases, bullying can become a criminal matter and your top priority is the welfare of your child.